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Land Of Corn And Cows? Nah

In this Reality Check, CBS News Correspondent Eric Engberg puts a pin in the Hawkeye hooey balloon. Pig farms? Sure. Coffee shops? Yep. But of much more importance are large professional campaign staffs and wads of campaign cash.

Iowa: land of skyscrapers . . . insurance capital . . . industrial giant.

Time Out!

How can that be Iowa? Isn't Iowa the land of corn and cows?

But farming is only one-fifth of the economy.

Maybe it's time to look at Iowa and its famous caucuses minus cliches.

First, candidates aren't here boogying for delegates. There aren't enough to matter. As veteran newspaper columnist Jules Witcover points out, Iowa is a cross between beauty show and dollar spigot.

"What's at stake here is the kind of publicity you get out of making a good showing - and the money that it may bring to your campaign," Witcover says.

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Iowans are good for Norman Rockwell pictures, gathered in their small town coffee shops talking politics.

"Partisan politics takes a back seat a little bit to independent thinking," says schoolteacher Mike Shield.

But forget the fairytale that campaigning here is personal and pure. Millions have been spent on TV ads. Candidates have huge professional staffs. And Iowa's fabled ability to boost a nobody like Jimmy Carter to the White House has been shattered by the compressed schedule of big state primaries that makes money paramount.

"Today, little known, under-financed candidates can come into the state, but if they don't have $20 million in the bank by the time they leave New Hampshire, they're going to be out of the race anyway," says political historian Hugh Winebrenner.

Critics still carp that Iowa is not typical of the country. Its population is small and 96 percent white. It has an unusually large senior population. And the people who go to caucuses are not even average Iowans. They're older, better off, better educated.

To the critics, Iowans say no state is totally typical. More to the point, they'll fight like tigers to stay first. When Louisiana Republicans tried to barge ahead, Iowa House Speaker Brent Siegrist warned the candidates they'd pay a political price here if they went South. Louisiana backed off.

Engberg: So, in essence, you have put a gun to the head of the candidates and said, Iowa will be first forever more.

Siegrist: The candidates have dcided they will come to Iowa first and we applaud them for that. I am a politician.

So don't look for Iowa to give up its No. 1 position without a fight to the last, excuse the cliches, corn stalk.

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